The world is a very angry place right now and home to a lot of very angry people. People are terrified of what is happening and what could happen but it seems that most often, they’re afraid of the anger itself. From a clinical perspective that last is interesting, considering anger is something our brains are programmed for, suggesting it’s useful as a survival mechanism.
Our reptile brains are, however, constantly at odds with our logic circuits, the latter of which very much enjoy categorizing things; doing so calms our fears and anxieties, stabilizes past, present, and future. It allows us to assign rational explanations to events like war and climate change that would otherwise be incomprehensible. It allows us to slot everything neatly into a larger picture that’s (relatively) predictable and (mostly) makes sense. This tendency extends not only to everything around us but also to what’s inside of us, including our emotions which we toss into either “good” or “bad” baskets. That does a disservice both to our emotions and to us because, like magic, it isn’t the thing itself that’s positive or negative. It’s what we do with the impulse that matters, but again, human nature demands simplicity and order.
Because it makes us uncomfortable, society has a tendency to tell people of all ages, especially women and girls, that not only is anger something we shouldn’t express, but something we shouldn’t feel. This is even more true of marginalized characters, Kuhn reminded us, including those who are disabled characters like Barbara Gordon, and “Women of color (Selina), Asian American women (Cass) who aren’t really given space to have those feelings or to show those feelings or to sit with them for a while so it was important for me to show that as well. You can take that space, you should take that space and if the people around you care about you, they’ll let you take that space and help you in that process.”
Shadow of the Batgirl, The Oracle Code, and Gotham High are very different books (remember, comics are a medium that can be used to tell stories of any genre) but they share a very important theme: the transformative power of anger.
Each of the POV characters in the graphic novels is facing a difficult situation in their respective narratives: Cass has run away from the father who raised her as a weapon, isolating her from human contact; Barbara has been paralyzed by a stray bullet. Selina is caring for a parent with a chronic illness. Bruce has lost his parents to tragedy. Jack lives in not only financial poverty but emotional poverty as well. They all have reasons, beyond what de la Cruz describes as the normal teenage anger at the realization that “‘The world sucks!’ They’re angry they’ve been lied to, the film is coming off their eyes'” to feel anger.
The trusted adults and friends who populate these books don’t do that. They don’t hide. They don’t redirect. They don’t ever suggest that kids and teens should stomp their emotions down and forget about them or temper them. Whether gently or openly, slowly or outright, they accept. They listen. And then they help Cass, Babs, Selina, and Bruce (poor Jack) figure out how best to express that anger, how to use it to accomplish something.
They live by the maxim, to quote the West African spider god as portrayed by Orlando Jones, “Anger gets shit done.”
Cass is angry. She learns to be human.
Babs is angry . She learns how to find herself.
Selina is angry. She learns how to make her own life.
Bruce is angry. He learns how to make his own family.
Jack is angry. He learns how to survive.